News that the divorce rate in the UK has dropped to its lowest level in 22 years, has been welcomed by Catholic marriage guidance and advisory services. Latest figures from The Office for National Statistics show that 141,135 divorces were granted in England and Wales in 2000, down from 144,556 in 1999 - 12.7 divorces per 1,000 married couples. The 2.4 per cent fall took the number of divorces to the lowest level since 1979. A spokesperson for Marriage Care, which provides marriage and relationship counselling for individuals and couples (married, single, separated, divorced, Catholic or not) told ICN: "We clearly welcome this decline in the divorce rate, and hope that it is partly due to the efforts of organizations such as ourselves. However we are still very concerned about the current high rate of relationship breakdown and aware of the need to work very hard developing areas such as pre-marriage counselling and education in schools. We also aim to provide support for couples at the many different stages of marriage - our latest publication is about married life after a first baby. Angela Perkins, Development Office with the National Board of Catholic Women, who are currently preparing a book on commitment in marriage, also welcomed the news. She said: "It feels quite cyclical to me. At one time women saw marriage as a full-time job - then the 'Swinging Sixties' came along, and at the same time modern technology made housework much less demanding. People began to abandon traditional patterns of living and started experimenting with serial cohabitation. But as time has passed many have begun to realise that there is a price to pay for that kind of lifestyle, and it doesn't always bring happiness. People are beginning to question what relationships are about and look at them more deeply. Perhaps that's what these figures are saying." Echoing these views, Freda Lambert, immediate past president of the NBCW, said: "We welcome the apparent fall in the divorce rate - while recognising that it is still very high. We trust that this represents a generally more mature approach to marriage. As far as Catholics are concerned, much emphasis is placed by the church on preparation for marriage. Agencies such as Marriage Care provide not only excellent courses for marriage preparation, but also conciliation services when relationships falter. "It is encouraging to read that couples are more willing to talk about the problem and more likely to find a solution than they would have been five years ago. It confirms our opinion that it is of the utmost importance to work at the relationship in marriage throughout the couple's life. "We are aware that many couples live together before marriage. However we note that eventually, a considerable number of these are still anxious to commit themselves to a lifetime relationship blessed and supported by the community of the church."
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